Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) had one major question for Robert Mueller: Why, during his nearly two-year investigation, did the former special counsel not force President Donald Trump to testify under oath?
In his answers, Mueller noted why the lack of cooperation mattered and explained that the decision was a pragmatic one.
The colloquy came late in the House Intelligence Committee’s hearing, Mueller’s second hearing of the day after testifying earlier before the House Judiciary Committee.
Maloney noted that Mueller’s report included significant details about Trump’s efforts to evade testimony. Trump declined a request for a voluntary interview and provided incomplete written answers. His attorneys made it clear that they would fight any attempt to subpoena the president all the way up to the Supreme Court.
Mueller explained that he negotiated with Trump for more than a year and had “little success in pushing to get the interview of the president.”
Maloney asked about the special counsel’s ultimate capitulation to Trump’s refusal to testify. “[D]id you have sufficient evidence of the president’s intent to obstruct justice, and is that why you didn’t do the interview?” he asked.
“There’s a balance,” Mueller replied. “In other words, how much evidence that you have that would satisfy the last element against how much time are you willing to spend in the courts litigating the interview with the president.”
After Maloney pressed him, Mueller added, “We had to make a balanced decision, in terms of how much evidence we had, compared to the length of time it would take.”
The New York lawmaker then questioned if even “sufficient evidence” was “better than that delay.”
“That it was better than the delay, to present the sufficient evidence — your term — of the president’s intent to obstruct justice to the attorney general and to this committee? Isn’t that why you didn’t do the interview?” he asked.
“No,” Mueller responded. “The reason we didn’t do the interview is because of the length of time that it would take to resolve the issues attendant to that.”
Mueller’s final report, made public in April, detailed at least 10 instances of possible obstruction involving Trump as well as numerous ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Though the president has claimed repeatedly that he cooperated with Mueller throughout the investigation and did not impede his work, Mueller himself has said this is untrue.
In addition to his multiple attempts to oust Mueller from his role as special counsel, Trump also stonewalled Mueller’s team repeatedly refusing to be interviewed and opting instead to answer a series of written questions.
Those responses, Mueller noted in his report, were mostly “inadequate.”
“The written responses, we informed counsel, ‘demonstrate the inadequacy of the written format, as we have had no opportunity to ask followup questions that would ensure complete answers and potentially refresh your client ‘s recollection or clarify the extent or nature of his lack of recollection’,” Mueller wrote in an appendix.
He noted that Trump had “stated on more than 30 occasions that he does not “recall” or “remember” or have an “independent recollection”‘ of information called for by the questions.”
In his testimony Wednesday, Mueller reiterated this point, saying that Trump’s written responses were “not as useful as the interview would be.”
Pressed further by Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), Mueller also agreed that Trump’s answers had been unhelpful because they were not always “truthful.”
“Isn’t it fair to say that the president’s written answers were not only inadequate and incomplete because he didn’t answer many of your questions, but where he did, his answers showed that he wasn’t always being truthful?” Demings asked.
“I would say, generally,” Mueller said.